🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

New 'Winter-look' for my blog

If you've visited and thought you've landed in some strange place, don't worry, it's just me playing with the layout of my blog again! The previous bright, sunny look just didn't seem to match the cold we're experiencing here in South Africa right now. The trees are bare, the lawn is dead and yellow and only the aloes are providing a splash of colour.

And right now there is nothing I would like better than to be sitting on the beach at the North Coast, enjoying warm temperatures and the warm Indian Ocean lapping at my feet.

But don't get me wrong. Winter-time is when the ocean along our North Coast can get really wild and wooley, with huge swells and really massive waves, being the perfect time for the Mr. Price Pro surfing competion to be held in Ballito every July.

One of my favourite spots at the beach in Ballito, just sitting and watching the waves crashing down in front of me.

But let us enjoy this short winter. Winter is the time of basic regeneration in nature. Winter is also pair-forming time for many ducks. What a joyful past-time to be able to watch them in patches of open water and record their courtship behaviour! Let's get outside, connect with Nature in winter and appreciate what she has to offer!

If all you did was just look for things to appreciate you would live a joyous, spectacular life. If there was nothing else that you ever came to understand other than just look for things to appreciate, it's the only tool you would ever need to predominantly hook you up with who you really are. That's all you'd need.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A bit of Marketing

As some of you might (or might not!) know, I am an artist by profession and, being absolutely enthralled by Nature, it is natural for me to sketch and paint the beauty I find in our natural world. Who can fail to marvel at the shape of a leaf, the sleek power of a cheetah, the dance of the wind over a grassland? I thank the Universe for this most amazing inspiration, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.

Albert Einstein said, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” I SO agree with him!

I display and have my artwork for sale on various websites. At RedBubble you have a choice of Greeting cards, Photographic prints, Matted prints, Framed prints, Posters, T-shirts and iPhone covers. If you're interested in buying some of my original artworks, feel free to look around in my Sales Blog. This is not a hard-sell site! Please feel free to browse and leave your comments - I'd love to hear from you! Or perhaps you just like browsing art, in which case you can visit me at Art & Creativity - My Sketchbook, where I post a wide selection of art on a regular basis.

Thank you for stopping by and, as always, I really enjoy your comments!


Sunday, 23 June 2013

The White Stork in my garden

As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. 
- John Muir

In December 2005, as I was doing some garden chores, a White Stork glided over my garden, did a u-turn and clumsily landed with a plop on the lawn, staggering to its feet as it landed. I was quite amazed at this sight and quietly observed him for a while before slowly approaching him. He unsteadily wandered a couple of paces and took shelter in the shade of one of my White Stinkwood trees (Celtis africana), standing quite still, looking in my direction. I've seen many storks foraging on our smallholding, especially after a veldfire, when they snack on the rich pickings of dead and burnt insects, and I've never seen one on its own, they're always together in a small flock.

Not knowing what to do, because he didn't look all that well to me, I let him rest for a while, thinking he would take to the air shortly. They weren't due to migrate for Europe until late-March, early-April, so it's not as if he could be tired. I thought maybe it was a fledgling, but when I later approached him and he made no attempt to wander away, I gave him a close inspection. He was extremely weak and very thin, and the only conclusion I could come to was that it was either a very old bird or very sick.

The garden had enough water in various bird baths and little ponds, so I carried on with my chores and just let him be. By the time it was getting dark, he was still wandering unsteadily around the garden, and finally he just settled next to some leaf cuttings still lying in the pathway.

I went to bed, spending most of the night worrying whether he would be Ok, even getting up a couple of times to check up on him, but, sadly to say, when I went out at dawn the next morning, I found him lying dead on the cuttings, as if fast asleep. I'd like to think that he was an old chap that had led a rich and full life with many a migration under his belt.

The White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) is a large wading bird in the stork family Ciconiidae, breeding in the warmer parts of Europe (north to Estonia), northwest Africa, and southwest Asia (east to southern Kazakhstan). It is a strong migrant, wintering mainly in tropical Africa, down to the south of South Africa, and also in the Indian subcontinent.

White Storks rely on movement between thermals of hot air for long distance flight, taking great advantage of them during annual migrations between Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. The shortest route south would take them over the Mediterranean, but since thermals only form over land, storks take a detour. The options are limited, because to the east lies the Arabian Desert, where it is difficult to find food and water - and to the west lies the Atlantic Ocean. This leaves two narrow migration corridors: eastern storks cross the straits of Bosporus to Turkey, traverse the Levant (Syria-Lebanon-Israel-Palestine), and then bypass the Sahara Desert by following the Nile, while western ones fly through the straits of Gibraltar. Either way, the storks can get help from the thermals for almost the entire trip and thus save energy.


"White storks breed in open farmland areas with access to marshy wetlands, building a stick nest in trees, on buildings, or special platforms. Because it is viewed as bird of good luck, it is not persecuted, and often nests close to human habitation. In southern Europe, storks' nests can be seen on churches and other buildings. It often forms small colonies. Like most of its relatives, it feeds on fish, frogs and insects but also eats small reptiles, rodents and smaller birds." This info from "Wikipedia" 

All pics taken in my garden. Camera : FujiFinepix 2800Zoom


Friday, 21 June 2013

Grass Aloes in Tarlton

Watercolour sketch of a Grass Aloe - Maree©

Now is the time that, as soon as we've had our first veld-fires, these beautiful aloes will start flowering, covering the black landscape with their beautiful red flowers.

Grass Aloes are an appealing group of deciduous aloes. As the name implies, they grow mainly in grasslands subject to winter fires. They are able to survive both fire and frost during the cold dry months. Their leaves and colours resemble their habitat, making them difficult to find when not in flower. These largely miniature aloes have very attractive flowers, making them desirable, if difficult, plants to cultivate. Their growing pattern is closely related to the winter fire cycles of the veld, some species responding directly to burning and producing leaves, flowers and later seed after such events.

This well known grass aloe is commonly found along rocky ridges and rocky slopes on the Witwatersrand and Magaliesberg as well as in mountainous areas of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. In years gone by it was even more prolific, but numbers have been greatly reduced due to development on the ridges and from harvesting by succulent collectors. A number of different forms are found throughout its distribution range.

The leaves are only slightly succulent, giving the plant a grass-like appearance when not in flower. The leaves are yellowish-green in colour, have numerous white dots on both surfaces, and small teeth along the leaf margins. The inflorescence is an un-branched raceme bearing large (40 mm long), pendulous flowers. The flowers are pinkish-orange in colour with green tips. Numerous brown, papery bracts are visible along the length of the scape.

The plants form dense clumps up to about 30cm high. The narrow fleshy leaves usually form a fan-shape and are borne on very short stems which branch at ground level. The leaves may occasionally form a rosette in older specimens. They are dull green or bluish-green with the upper surface distinctly channelled and the lower surface bearing numerous tuberculate white spots towards the base. The margins of the leaves are armed with soft white teeth.

Aloe verecunda is deciduous and loses all its leaves in winter which only reappear after the first rains in Spring. The plant has thick fleshy roots in which it stores water during the dry winter months.

Attractive dense heads of up to 20 peach-red to scarlet flowers are tubular and up to 30mm in length, becoming pendulous when open. The flowers produce nectar which attracts nectar-feeding Sun birds which in turn act as pollinators for the plant. A greenish-yellow form is also occasionally found

The name Aloe is derived from Alloeh, the Arabic name for this genus and verecunda means modest/chaste (Latin).

Monday, 17 June 2013

Food from trees - The Kei Apple

(Dovyalis caffra)

A bountiful crop of roundish, velvety, bright yellow fruits with thick succulent flesh carpeted the ground beneath a tree in the grounds of a hospital on the Cape Flats in the Western Province this past autumn. Unusual in this part of the world, the Kei-apple tree had done itself proud, yet no humans had discovered this rich source of food on their doorsteps.
It was there for the taking by the birds and, what they did not eat, fell to the ground to ferment, attracted fruit flies and rotted down, returning nutrients to the soil.

The tree, a Kei-apple, Dovyalis caffra, is well known all over the eastern parts of the country, common in open bush and wooded grassland, and often near termite mounds. It belongs to a cosmopolitan family, the Flacourtiaceae, which are all good, fruit-bearing shrubs or trees, very often armed with vicious spines, and its name derives from the Kei River where it grows in abundance as a thick, shiny, spiny shrub up to three metres in height. The branches are armed with straight, robust spines up to 7 cm long.

This year my trees also bore an abundance of fruit for the first time ever and I ascribe this to the fact that we get heavy frost here in Tarlton (South Africa). It has taken almost seven years for my trees to reach just over three meters tall and I was absolutely thrilled to have the fruit. Of course I had to try them but they really are too acidic, with a slight hint of sweetness, to enjoy on a full-time basis. And I'm therefore also not surprised at all that Torti, my Leopard Tortoise, did not touch any that had fallen on the floor. But they look really beautiful displayed in a dish!

Image credit - Tatters, Flickr

Some trees may grow to nine metres with a thick crown of green foliage; these large specimens are often less spiny as the tree has put its energy into its bulk, rather than into thorn production. The tree is known by a variety of other names: Dingaan’s apricot, wild apricot, wilde-appelkoos, appelkoosdoring, um- Qokolo (Xhosa and Zulu) amongst others. Although it is indigenous to warmer areas, it will survive mild frost, and long periods of drought. It grows well in poor soils. The Kei-apple makes a worthwhile addition to your garden as it serves a multitude of purposes, not least of which as a source of food for humans and animals alike.

Fresh, ripe fruits are rich in Vitamin C and pectin and, following the example of the Pedi people who squeeze the juice onto their pap, they would make an excellent addition to a fruit salad and to muesli and yoghurt. Nature seems to know best when to give us the right foods to boost our immune systems in preparation for the onslaught of winter colds and ‘flu.

In addition, Egyptian scientists have also reportedly identified 15 different amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in the fruit. Monkeys and baboons, antelope and birds recognise their health-giving qualities and devour them voraciously in the wild! Most people, however, consider the fruit too acid for eating out-of-hand, even when fully ripe.

So, cut the fruits in half, remove the peel and two rings of hairy seeds. Sprinkle with sugar and leave them to sit for a few hours before serving as a dessert, or adding to a fruit salad. The fruits can be cooked, but take only a few minutes of cooking before they turn into a sauce. Thicken this with a little crème fraiche and serve it over ice cream. Kei apples are more usually made into delicious jams and jellies or, when unripe, into pickles.

Kei-apple Jam
Because of the apples high level of acidity, no lemon juice need be added to the jam.
450 g Kei apples, halved, peeled, de-seeded and thinly sliced
450 g white sugar
Grated zest of one lemon (be careful not to include the bitter white pith)
1 teaspoon ground (or 1 large stick) cinnamon
1 tablespoon raisins, a bay leaf, 2 cloves optional extras
Pack the sliced fruit into a jar, stand it in a saucepan of boiling water and let the apples stew for about 15 minutes, or until they start to become tender. Put the apples into a clean, heavy-bottomed pot, add the sugar and the grated lemon zest. Do not add the cinnamon if using ground cinnamon, because it will tend to become viscous when boiled.

Hardiness: A subtropical shrub or tree, capable of surviving temperatures to 20F.

Growing Environment: Kei apple's are both drought and salt tolerant and are often used as coastal landscaping shrubs.

Propagation: Usually by seed.

Plants bear in 4-5 years from seed.

Uses: Fruits are often sprinkled with sugar and eaten fresh. They can also be used in a variety of desserts.

Native Range: Native to the Kei River region of Southwest Africa. The Kei Apple has adapted to subtropical regions throughout the world and is sometimes planted for ornamental purposes in Florida, California, and Southern Europe.



Sunday, 9 June 2013

New life


Even in mid-winter - New life…

each frond



just filled

with potential


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Brave in the cold

how brave is the flower
that breaks through cold earth
in search of a sun who never
made any promises
never offered hope
or any kind of commitment
just a stray bit of warmth
a bold benevolent smile
just the right light
to make her
- The Blue Muse

It always amazes me how some flowers prefer to flower in winter - lucky us! Even the coldest days can be imbued with gorgeous colour! Some of my succulents are already flowering and this Cactus Echinopsis is decidedly early this year!

Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom


Saturday, 1 June 2013

June inspiration - Nature's beauty

All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child. 
- Marie Curie 

Nature's beauty can be easily missed - Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books. John Muir said, "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."



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